Experts call on an improved quality matric pass and a training approach that produces highly needed skills beyond matric, to better meet the labour market’s needs.
They blame the cookie cutter approach to secondary education at school level and a high supply of skills such as social sciences that are less needed by the economy for the high unemployment rate; which indicates a mismatch between the skills tertiary institutions produce and what business needs.
According to then Gauteng local government and traditional affairs MEC Qedani Mahlangu, 60 percent of all vacancies at local government level in 2007 were artisan positions, a challenge which comes at the peril of municipal service delivery ability. Many of the positions were frozen as competition for these scarce skills between the private and the public intensified.
Mzwandile Gogwana, director of corporate services at Amatola Water which supplies bulk water and other water services to municipalities in the Eastern Cape says, “Scarce skills in our industry are Millwrights, Electricians, Registered Design Engineers, and Project Finance. There is a dire need for a strong pool of qualified artisans in our company. The country and its economy generally need artisans to build our infrastructure and ensure that it is well kept and maintained like in all developed and developing countries of the world.”
Infrastructure backlogs and low skills level has been fingered as being the culprit behind poor service delivery at municipal level.
Part of the answer, says Human Science Research Council (HSRC) analyst Mcebisi Ndletyana, is to embark on a campaign drive to change perceptions on artisans skills development.
“There is a misconception that artisans are not intelligent, so to prove that they are intelligent, people would rather register for a Bachelor of Arts degree. Often the result is that they end up with a degree that the economy does not need and remain unemployed, meanwhile there is a shortage and desperate need of artisans,” says Ndletyana.
A recent study by Trade Union Solidarity predicts that 60 percent of the nearly 600 000 matric learners who passed in 2010 will not find employment.
The bleak outcome, say expects is because:
- Matric does not equip learners with skills for the work place
- The minimum requirement to pass is a meagre 30 percent in three subjects and 40 percent in languages
- The education system is too fixated on getting a matric certificate
Ndletyana says technical skills shortage had more impact on government structures and service delivery than it does on business skills.
Ndletyana says for the government sector the shortage of qualified engineers and applied sciences graduates is exacerbated by demand for high salaries which the private sector is more able to meet than government is capable.
“The preference for private sector as people chase higher salaries in the private sector is to the detriment of government. There is a small pool of people with scarce skills and they demand higher salaries.”
A number of concept documents including Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition (Jipsa) highlight a shortage in urban planners, artisans and engineers, Ndletyana says.
The manufacturing sector, local government and economy face a shortage of artisans, engineers, town planners, entrepreneurs, managers and scientists, he adds.
“When we talk science we need basic scientific skills at artisan level like electricians and plumbers. We also need people that can manage local authorities, utilities and companies and we also don’t have entrepreneurial skills,” Efficiency Group economist Dawie Roodt says.
So what steps could be taken to turn around South Africa’s dire skills shortage?
Gogwana adds that Amatola Water offers bursaries to students who wish to undertake studies in Civil Engineering and Electrical Engineering in a bid to tackle the problem. “We have recently embarked upon an Artisan Development Programme in collaboration with private sector companies to augment our pool of artisans in the employ of our company.”
Roodt says the education system as it is puts too much emphasis on matric without much regard to the hundreds of thousands who either do not reach matric or do not make the grade and qualify for university or Technikon studies.
Roodt expresses reservations over the quality of a matric pass, which in recent years has been reduced to 30 percent in three subjects and 40 percent in languages. “The minister of education should raise the standards and reduce the number of people in matric. A grade 8 artisan qualification could be one of the steps to further education.”
According to Equal Education (EE), the class of 2010 which started in 1999 initially had over 1.3 million learners. Over the years some 56 percent of those dropped out and just over 579 000 reached matric.
“There are millions of people who hold a matric certificate and a surplus of jobless Bachelor of Arts graduates. If you manufacture a product, someone must be willing to buy it. In education it’s no different, if you produce skills, someone must be willing to use and pay for those skills otherwise there is no point,” Roodt says. “A low quality matric pass does not mean anything. You are not necessarily going to get a job with pass marks at 30 and 40 percent.”
Roodt says the education department should consider an education programme that allows learners to branch into other qualification streams and go into training before grade twelve. This, he says, would reduce the high matric failure rate and provide the economy with the technical skills it needs.
According to government’s Industrial Policy Action Plan (I-PAP) document, the automotive sector has more than doubled in size since 1994, with an exponential growth in exports.
However, the sector has not created jobs at a matching rate and the local education system has not produced the right skills to meet the needs of the sector.
National Association of Automotive Component and Allied Manufacturers (Naacam) president Stewart Jennings says not only is the automotive sector short of artisans, but those that learning institutions produce “are not nearly as skilled as they were 15 years ago”.
Jennings echoed Roodt’s sentiments about the poor quality of matric passes. “The system as it is produces matriculants that can’t write, can’t spell and are not mathematically proficient. It’s more important to improve standards at school level as opposed to increasing the pass rate by allowing learners who’ve achieved 30 percent to pass.”